International Gamers Awards - 2005 Finalists

As announced on the GameWire, the finalists for 2005 are out.

Nobody asked for my opinion, but here goes. In the General Strategy category, I've played 6 of the games. I've observed Around the World in 80 Days and Louis XIV so have a decent idea about the play in each of those. I know very little about Ubongo or Ys, but have heard great things about Reef Encounter.

Of the games I have played, I would vote for Ticket to Ride - Europe or Shadows Over Camelot. My opinion might change after I get a chance to play Reef Encounter. Ticket to Ride - Europe improves substantially on what was already a solid game (better ticket distribution, tighter board, big cards), and Shadows Over Camelot is my family's new favorite cooperative game (surpassing Lord of the Rings: the Boardgame). I'm not a big fan of Keythedral, and I think Antiquity and Struggle of Empires might be a bit too big / long to win. Carcassonne: the City is a great game but might suffer from excessive sequel-itis.

I can't say much about the two player category. I own War of the Ring and Dungeon Twister but haven't played either. I gave Oceania as a gift to a friend but haven't played it, though I understand the mechanics well - I suspect it is too thin to win. Jambo, the only game in the category that I have played, is a very solid two player game that I would love to own. I bet it has a decent chance of winning.

SimplyFun Game Night

SimplyFun is a relatively new game company with a novel business model - direct sales of games through SimplyFun independent consultants (similar to Tupperware and others) that come to your home for a party to demonstrate and play their games. SimplyFun has a recognizable leadership team and since their launch I've been curious to see both the business model and games in action. So, back in July I went to the website and expressed an interest in hosting a party. Within a few days Amy Ellis was in touch with me to schedule the event, also providing some good tips on planning and preparing a guest list. Amy (and her husband Steve) are also part owners of the local game shop Rainy Day Games. I used the handy eVite online service to invite friends and track attendance.

Last night was the night for the party, and I had 10 people confirmed to attend (some game group regulars, work friends, and local friends). Knowing that the games from SimplyFun were of the, ahem, lighter sort I wasn't very confident any of the die-hards would show up from the RipCity group - Mike Deans and Ken Rude both accommodated though and at least one of them had a good time.

Most of you are probably interested in the games, so I'll dive in and share my experiences with each. The event went well, people had fun and bought product (I think a total of over $400 worth), and at least a few expressed an interest in hosting their own event in the future.

Amy started us off with Linkity, a word association game. Each player is dealt a hand of cards with single letters on them, and the start player lays down a card and says a word that starts with the letter on that card. The hand then proceeds in real-time, with players laying down cards by free associating with the prior word. An example might be "Leg", "Foot", "Meter", "Water".

If at any point a player feels that an association is inappropriate or too much of a stretch, the player can challenge and call for a vote. If the challenge is upheld, the offending player takes back the card and draws two more. If the other players disagree with the challenger, then the challenger must draw two more cards. The hand is over when a player runs out of cards, with each other player scoring points equal to the number of cards left in her hand. I rate the game "OK", probably about a 6 or so - a fun party game but not much in the box to make it a compelling purchase. I could probably just use my set of Alpha Cards to play the game.

Next up was Handy, a dexterity game described as "Twister for your hands". The game comes with a set of 30 different balls that players try to suspend between pairs fingers from adjacent players based on cards that are drawn. I didn't play this one, but after observation I decided it wouldn't make my purchase list. Again, too little to the game to grab my interest.

Next up was Walk the Dogs, a cute little set collection game with some creative mechanics. The game comes with 63 dogs of about 7-8 different types that get randomly put into a chain (head to tail) of dogs in the center of the table. Players alternatively collect dogs from this central chain by playing cards that allow them to take dogs from the front, back or both ends of the chain and put them into their own personal chain. The goal is to build contiguous sets of the same types of dogs in your personal chain - these sets score the square of the length of the set. There's risk in keeping these sets open on your chain, however, as there are cards that force players to discard their longest exposed set on the end of a chain.

This game was the first hit of the party, I think because of a combination of the cute little doggies and a more interesting game. This one went right onto my purchase list.

I surprised Amy by requesting (several times) that she bring and we play TuneBaya, a lyrics and singing party game. This one is designed by Peter Sarrett and Michael Adams and, while it won't be at the top of everyone's list, for groups that enjoy singing and music this is a great party game.

The game is played over eight rounds, each round starting with a card draw where a player chooses one of two song topics. Players then write down the title of a song that includes the topic word or category in its lyrics, followed by grabbing a small microphone from the middle of the table (there is one fewer microphone than the number of players, like when playing spoons). Once each of the microphones is taken, the player who first took a microphone sings his song. Other players join in the song if they know it as well, but at least 10 words of the song must be sung in order to score points. If one or more other players wrote down the same song title, each of those players gets a five point bonus. Each player that joins in the song also gets a bonus point, and the player that wrote down the song title gets a point for each other player that joined in. So if there were five players in the game, and another player wrote down the same song title as I, and four players in total sang along, I would score the five point bonus plus four points for a total of 9 points. The other player that wrote down the same song would also score 9 points. Obscurity does not pay off in this game, a key point that will likely keep me from ever winning this game. It was great fun though and jumped right onto my purchase list.

Those that were not interested in singing played the word game Plext over in the kitchen. I still don't know much about the game, but comments were favorable from those that tried it. The goal seems to be to build the shortest possible words that use a sequence of letters in succession, where you are allowed to plug in your own letters in between the letters shown on the board.

Our last SimplyFun game of the night was Eye to Eye. This is a game of categories where you try and come up with specific examples within a category (like "Soap Brands", or "Shades of Red") that you think other people will come up with as well. Again, obscurity does not pay in this game. The scoring mechanism is quite cool but a bit gratuitous - there are wooden cubes that you collect when you score points (points are bad) and you build them into a pyramid. When your pyramid is complete, or if all of the scoring blocks are gone, the game is over.

This is a great light party game that should be popular for family gatherings. I'm purchasing it and it should find some decent amount of play out at the coast.

Thanks to Amy and all my friends for making this party a success. I wish SimplyFun lots of success - it looks to be a solid business model and hopefully they and their consultants can make some money while spreading the word about family gaming.

ChiZo Rising - Second Impressions

I'm not ready to review this game yet, but I can share some first impressions after having read the rules and playing a partial game with Jacob last night. There is very little information out there regarding this game, so I figure a few folks might be interested in basic mechanics of gameplay. A simple Google search for the game reveals less than 10 hits, including one where there's an interesting reader comment about the game.

First, you must pronounce the name of this game correctly to play it - "chye-zo rising", not "cheese-oh rising". Think "ChineseZodiac". Ah, that was probably obvious.

ChiZo Rising Box

The ChiZo Rising starter set, which includes a fixed number of starter tiles with two boosters.

I purchased two starter sets that Jacob and I opened up Monday night after his football game (and before another trip back to the east coast at 6am on Tuesday - yes, I was in Portland for less than 24 hours). My box had the three creatures Dragon, Horse, and Dog. Jacob's had Tiger, Pig, and … can't remember what the third was because he never got a third creature out. The booster packs are not necessarily aligned with the starting creatures, which meant that out of our four boosters we had maybe 12 tiles (out of 32) that were unusable. This is expected in a collectible game I suppose. We pooled our boosters, trading tiles that worked with our respective creatures.

The goal of the game is to collect 12 capture points. Capture points can be obtained by capturing opponent creatures in battle, collecting sets of 4 neighboring compatible creatures, or by action tiles that give points (usually for a sacrifice).

There are several types of tiles in the game (this is all from memory as I left the rulebook at home)

  • Creature tiles - the basic building block of the deck, similar to creatures in Magic: the Gathering. Each creature has a name, type ("Tiger"), a list of compatible creatures, and strength / intelligence attributes.
  • Item and obstacle tiles - permanents that get played alongside creatures but are not creatures. Useful for blocking or creating effects on neighboring tiles.
  • Permanent modifier tiles - generally modify the capabilities of existing creatures on the table. Each creature can have only one modifier tile and it goes under the creature.
  • Action tiles - These start an action stack, similar to a spell in Magic.
  • Reaction tiles - These can be played on top of an existing action stack. Some tiles are both Action and Reaction tiles, meaning that they can start an action stack or be played on an existing action stack.

Each player builds a deck with 40-60 tiles and draws five tiles for the starting hand. On your turn you can take two actions, with three choices for each action:

  • Draw two tiles
  • Play a tile (creature, item, or obstacle) onto the table
  • Start an action or battle stack

Jacob playing ChiZo Rising

Jacob and I into our second turn.

Creatures played onto the table must be placed orthogonally adjacent ("neighboring") at least one other creature tile, the only exception being when there are no other creatures on the board. Creatures are placed with top away from the player playing the tile so that tiles can be distinguished from each other - there is one creature play area for the whole game, and the game supports 2-4 players.

You start an action stack by playing an action tile - these usually have some instant effect but some are permanent effects that stack underneath a tile. Each other player in turn has the opportunity to play a reaction tile on top of the stack (literally) until everyone passes once. Effects are then resolved top to bottom - I like the graphical depiction of the stack. It is possible for a tile to fizzle when it gets revealed in the stack depending on the other reactions already resolved.

You start a battle by playing a tile, any tile, from your hand face down on the table after declaring the attacker and defender; the defender must be a neighbor of the attacker. The attacker and defender can also ask for allied support - usually this will come from the attacker or defender but it can also come from other players with tiles neighboring the defender. As in normal action stacks, other players can then add reaction tiles to the stack - this is a good opportunity to buff up creatures before combat resolution. This stack is then resolved top to bottom. Finally, the strength and intelligence values of the attacker and defender are compared - if either has superiority in both, then that side wins, capturing the opponent's creature plus all supporting allies.

All of this up to now is fairly standard CCG stuff, though the shared tile layout space is somewhat original. Where ChiZo gets interesting is in set collection: if you can manage to place the fourth creature tile and complete a 2x2 square of compatible creatures, you get to claim all four of those creatures as capture points. This can be tricky, as every creature in the set must be compatible with every other creature. The rulebook includes a compatibility matrix that I haven't quite grokked - there seem to be some interesting balance attempts in how they built this. For example, Roosters are fairly weak creatures but are compatible with a wider range of creatures than, say, the Tiger. This will certainly lead to some interesting deck building strategies.

What I don't know yet is if it is a fun game. I think it will be and look forward to playing it this weekend. The tile quality is mostly outstanding - I love the artwork and color treatments, and they did a nice job of using consistent backgrounds to link action tiles to specific creatures. I did notice that a few of the tiles had some punch-out issues with the paper backing tearing off - not cool as this allows you to identify tiles fairly easily from their backs. I wonder if this will be a pervasive issue in this initial product release.

Oh, the boosters packs are fun to open. As you can see in the top picture, they come 8 tiles to a box and the boxes snap in half, allowing the tiles to slide out.

GenCon 2005, Day 4

This will be my last GenCon report. Hope you enjoyed them and feel free to ask any questions, either in the comment area or by sending me an email.

Sunday started with a return to the BigBox Play and Win. I did the math and figured out that if I bought another 12 generic tickets at $1.50 each, we could try out Manila and if we liked it, choose it from the prize table by aggregating our points. This means paying a net of about $27 for the game, which is a good deal (if we like it…).

We ran into Denise on our way into Hall 500 and she offered to join us - great chance for us to actually game together as we had been chatting all weekend. The kind GM at the BigBox area helped us setup the game and taught us the rules. This is a pretty light game, easy to learn especially when you play through a turn sequence.

Manila Board Game

Matthew, Jacob, and Denise join me in a game of Manila.

I thought I had a decent handle on strategy and was leading with about 1-2 rounds left. Jacob and Matthew, however, had bid much more competitively for harbor master and managed to buy up a decent amount of commodities. That plus a few bad bets on the board left Denise and I WAY behind Jacob as he crushed the rest of us, with Matthew finishing 2nd. Clearly these kids knew something we didn't, namely that you need to buy some of those commodities early in the game. I really enjoyed this - might be a bit too random for some folks' tastes but there's a solid game in there.

Next up was our final working session at Days of Wonder. I taught Memoir '44 to a few folks, including a father/son aged 7, while Jacob taught and played Ticket to Ride. Looks like they did well in the booth this year, selling out of Shadows Over Camelot and showing brisk sales throughout all of the time I sat there (certainly due to my demo prowess).

Jacob teaching Ticket to Ride

Jacob teaching Ticket to Ride.

Our last event of the convention was a Live Action Role Playing (LARP) game title "Dealer's Room After Dark". This was a kid-friendly LARP designed to be a good introductory game for adults and children, and we had a great mix of people in the room. The story line was simple: we are all toys at a toy convention, someone has stolen the "best dealer of the show" award and there have been some other strange goings-on.

Live Action Role Playing

The LARP in action. That's Matthew second from the right.

This sort of activity is right up Matthew's alley, but Jacob and I also had a blast. LARP has a sort of stigma at conventions; I don't know many boardgamers that try it. They really are quite innocent and, I think, a great developmental activity for kids. This is simply creative acting, improvisation, and problem-solving. There are some great socialization aspects as well - how do you roleplay a mean character without hurting anyone's feelings "outside" the game?

Matthew after the LARP

Matthew with two of the toys after the LARP completed.

We left the show around 4pm, and drove back to Shelbyville to spend time with my two grandmothers (in the same nursing home) then join my parents, sister, and two nieces for a great dinner and family fun. I broke out For Sale and taught it to everyone there and it was a huge hit - comments afterwards were uniformly "where can I buy this?"